Budapest to Belgrade

Monday 30th continued

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When it comes to rail travel in Eastern Europe, Budapest is a hub, which is why this is the third time I have arrived in Budapest by train. I had tried to pick a train time that would have allowed me to have a cheap as chips massage at the thermal baths but it didn’t work out in the end. Budapest also seems to be where fast western european trains stop and slow eastern european trains start. Still on the “Avala”, I appeared to be the only passenger coming from Vienna who stayed on the train. I was accompanied to the border by a lady with enormous reusable tesco bags that seemed to take up half our cabin.

The train trundled south at a sometimes painfully slow pace. The line is only single track so numerous times we had to wait in sidings to let a terribly important train carrying logs go the other way. The platforms also seem to stop in Budapest: anyone getting off the train had to make an heroic leap down to the ground, luggage being caught by loved ones below. I passed time until the border in the luxurious and ludicrously overstaffed restaurant car. I was the only customer and as I drank my coffee, the head waiter, his assistant and the chef sat down to a three course meal on the table next to me.

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I think that is in Asne Seierstad’s book “With Their Backs to the World” (that same author wrote “The Bookseler of Kabul”) that one the people featured quips that there must be more border guards patrolling the frontiers within the former Yugoslavia than in the rest of Europe combined. Becoming now almost a frequent traveller in these parts, I must be becoming familiar to many of them, although admittedly they are more likely to recognise me in my pyjamas as I always seem to cross the border in the middle of the night. These midnight border crossings come with a pang of fear that I am going to be kicked off the train for not having the right visa, despite that little access-all-areas purple book that I keep in my back pocket. Indeed last summer when we were travelling from Belgrade to Greece some Canadians were kicked off the train in the middle of the night at the crossing because they didn’t have the write paperwork.

This time however I was crossing in the middle of the afternoon and the whole experience was a whole lot less worrysome although the border guard did question me for some time on my reasons for going to Belgrade. Safely into Serbia, I transferred to the cabin of an elderly lady where I had spotted that there was a socket from which I could charge my camera. My Serbo-Croat is not that hot and she didn’t speak any English. Nevertheless we were able to communicate to some extent. I found out that she was called Elizabeth and was from Bosnia but was now living in Novi-Sad (of excellent music festival fame). I think she understood that I was an engineer. And when I told her I was going to Romania she started waving her hands above her head in alarm. It’s amazing how far you can get without words. (I later foound out that my Serbian is even worse than I thought: upon verification with higher authorities that evening, it appears that I had told Elizabeth that my name was English and I had asked her if she spoke Oliver. Oh well, at least I tried)

We said our goodbyes at Novi Sad, by which time it had already grown dark. There are not many lights in that part of the Serbian countryside and there was nothing but blackness outside my window. Whereas up until Novi Sad, I had always had fellow passengers and hence, somehow, their company, I felt quite alone on that last bumpy hour of the journey. Finally the train rattled its way across the Danube and slowly made its way into Belgrade station. There to meet me on the platform with warm embraces were Ana and Barbara. It had been almost a year since we first met on the IACES exchange to Ljubljana. After a year of promises to come and see them I had finally arrived in their home city, quite exhausted after twenty-eight hours of travel, but with still enough energy for some celebratory beers. Geeverli! (Ana, please advise on the correct spelling!)

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7 Comments

  1. hi, just wondering how much the train might cost from budapest to the place of music festival fame. i like your blog. nick

  2. I had a massage in the Gellert Spa on the civsoc trip the other weekend. The purveyor was a large, imposing and obese character with overly big hands and no mercy. It was an “experience”, and certainly not the gentle and pleasant rub which the rest of the complex’s atmosphere led me to expect. Nevertheless, 25 minutes for £10 was money well spent, even if there was a little squirming about! The spa itself was top notch.

  3. Hi Nick,
    I can’t remember off the top of my head how much the train costs from Budapest to Novi Sud. My ticket was booked all the way from Paris to Belgrade (which seems quite amazing really). Unfortunately I lost my diary with all my notes in but fortunately I still have the one that I wrote when I took the same route last summer to get to Greece. I will have a little look and post another comment here if I have any luck.

  4. Hi Andy,
    I went to the Gellert Spa on my most recent trip to Budapest in November, but I did not have the time to get a massage in. ON previous visits I have always been to the Szechenyi baths in Pest. There is something about their grandeur and their decor that makes the place a little unreal. I also felt it was a bit more family oriented and a bit less seedy. And the massages there are top notch. It’s got to hurt a bit otherwise it is not doing any good, but the no mercy approach scares me a little. Playing games is fine with tourists as long as it doesn’t involve messing with my spinal chord!

  5. Hi, i was just wandering if you could send me the name and link of the site that u booked the ticket from budapest to belgrade from ,thanks loads, mat

  6. Hi mat,
    If I remember rightly, this is the website: http://www.vienna-hydrofoil.hotels-in-budapest-hungary.com/

    Order the cappuccino and it will come with 100s and 1000s on top – at least it did last summer!

  7. Sorry for off topic, but 2012 is close, is this really matter?

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